Jimmy John's sued in pedestrian's death

Family accuses eatery of sacrificing safety for punctuality

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Jimmy John's, the ubiquitous sandwich-maker that boasts speedy delivery times, is being accused of putting too much emphasis on punctuality and not enough on safety.

The daughter of a man killed by a Jimmy John's delivery driver in Morgantown, W.Va., is suing the company, saying that its "freaky fast delivery" slogan encourages unsafe driving.

The man, J. Robert McClain, was walking his dog across a street a couple of blocks from his home in Morgantown on Aug. 19 when he was struck by a Jimmy John's delivery car driven by Levi Sooy.

In a complaint filed against the company, the attorney for Mr. McClain's daughter, Linda Lutman, contends that the emphasis on speed created working conditions that endangered the public and helped cause Mr. McClain's death.

"When you create an environment in which you're encouraging your drivers to be 'freaky fast,' it's inevitable that that 'freaky fast' driving will cause harm," said Allan Karlin, Ms. Lutman's attorney.

Mr. Sooy was looking at the clock on his dashboard when he hit Mr. McClain, according to a Morgantown police report. One witness described seeing him "speed" toward Mr. McClain, while another said he was driving "very fast."

The Jimmy John's media office could not be reached for comment.

Mr. McClain's family has been "devastated" by his sudden death, Mr. Karlin said.

"It's been an extremely hard time," he said. "His wife and he were very close. It's a horrible, terrible loss."

It isn't the first time Jimmy John's has been sued after an accident involving one of its delivery drivers. In 2011, a man sued the company after one of its drivers in Springfield, Ill., ran into him while he was riding a motorcycle. The case, which also says the company encouraged unsafe driving with its "freaky fast" slogan, originally was dismissed, but in April an appellate court decided that it could proceed, said Gregory Sgro, an attorney for the injured man.

In a similar case from 1993, a St. Louis woman who was involved in a car accident with a Domino's Pizza delivery driver sued the company on the grounds that its 30-minute delivery guarantee caused dangerous driving. The company settled the lawsuit and stopped offering the guarantee, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Jimmy John's long has placed an emphasis on speedy delivery, company materials show.

It has used the "freaky fast" slogan in advertisements, in a domain name, on t-shirts and as a hashtag on Twitter. It sponsors Nascar drivers Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, and once did a promotion in which Stewart used his racing car to deliver its sandwiches.

The company's website features a game in which the user steers a Jimmy John's delivery car to pick up cups of coffee and piles of money in the road, and to dodge buses, food trucks, pigs and sheep. If the player makes it to the finish line within a certain time, the game offers a congratulations: "Yeehaw! That was freaky fast!"

Richard Webner: rwebner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4903. First Published February 5, 2014 3:48 PM

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